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News > Foundation Archive News > Correspondence Gives New Perspective on Princethorpe’s Past

Correspondence Gives New Perspective on Princethorpe’s Past

Archivist, Jo Wong, explores the transition from St Mary's Priory to Princethorpe College in 1966.

Since starting in post as Foundation Archivist last term, I have been busy immersing myself in the fascinating histories of our schools. One of the points I have found particularly interesting in Princethorpe’s past is its transition from St Mary’s Priory to Princethorpe College in 1965-6. Having been home to an enclosed order of Benedictine nuns for 130 years, its transformation to a boys’ boarding and day school run by the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSC) marked the beginning of a new era in its history.

Although I knew that the College has long treasured its links with the Benedictine nuns and had been honoured to welcome several of them back for visits over the years, in my mind these two periods in the school’s past were quite separate. Of course, we have the extremely evocative photographs (see gallery) of the handover taking place between the St Mary’s Priory community and the MSC priests on the day of the nuns’ departure, but these seemed to be capturing a fleeting moment in time. The nuns left for their new home at Fernham, bidding farewell to the beautiful Priory which had been founded and cared for by their community for so many years; the MSCs remained to guide it safely into its new era and towards further exciting developments in the future.

I was therefore fascinated to find, held safely in our correspondence collections, a telegram from the Fernham community addressed to ‘Rev Father Superior and Community, Princethorpe College, Rugby’, wishing them ‘every success and blessing’. Although the telegram itself is undated, the letter of response held in the same file indicates that it had been sent to wish the MSCs well for the opening of Princethorpe College in September 1966. The telegram’s ‘glorious technicolour’ illustrations would certainly seem to date it around that time too! (see gallery for images of the telegrams)

The letter sent in reply to the Mother Prioress by Father John Kevin Fleming MSC, Princethorpe College’s first Headmaster, is both a wonderful source of information on the early days of the College, and touching proof of the great regard the Princethorpe MSCs and Fernham community had for each other. Father Fleming recounts his discussions with parents at the College’s Open Days which took place in late September: ‘Again and again I repeated “We have […] to thank the good Sisters who were here before us for all this.” ‘ (see gallery for copies of the letters)

Father Fleming’s letter also refers to the fact that the two communities have continued to pray for each other, and mentions his correspondence with Mother Walburga and Mother Scholastica at Fernham. Signing off, he asks Mother Prioress to ‘kindly remember me to Mother Procurator and all the good Sisters, and if we can be of any help at any time, please do not hesitate to let me know’.

This correspondence, bridging the two main eras of Princethorpe’s history, gives a real sense of the warmth, kindness, mutual respect and continuity of purpose which still infuse the Princethorpe ethos today. As a Foundation we have a strong sense of our wonderful heritage, and very much continue to thank those who were here before us, even as we look ahead to the future.

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